Fuel creativity (Co-authored by Tom Dawes)
We all know how the speed of change and increasing volatility is creating significant challenges and providing new opportunities for many organisations. Apart from becoming more operationally efficient, in order to sustain performance, companies need to nourish creativity and drive innovation at a faster pace than ever before.
However, ask most people in most organisations what their role in creativity is and the likely reply will be that they don’t need to exercise creativity in their roles. They will say that creativity is meant for the advertising or design teams.
The reality is that we all have problems to solve or need to come up with new ideas. All of us have a certain amount of creative spark in us. And the irony is that while most leaders feel that we need to spend more time innovating, our management approach and our individual thinking or behaviour stifles creativity. Many of us find creativity elusive or intangible.
Where do you think you fall? I’d suggest taking a few minutes to go through author and professor Youngme Moon’s Anti-Creativity Checklist (https://hbr.org/2015/04/an-anti-creativity-checklist-for-2015) – a tongue-in-cheek checklist “guaranteed to stifle imagination, innovation, and out-of-box thinking… a checklist designed specifically for people who want nothing to do with disruptive change”.
Remember that creativity isn’t something for a select few “creative types”. We need to find ways to make it part of what all of us do.
So, I am pleased that Tom Dawes has written this week’s message on creativity – what it means, how it translates into business and what we can do personally, to fuel it. Tom, as you know, is our Creative & Digital Director, leading our efforts globally on our digital transformation.
Please read on…
As someone with ‘creative’ in their job title, I often find myself thinking about the word A LOT. Where do creative ideas come from? How does one become ‘more creative’? If I could only work out where creativity stems from I could unleash more artistic wonder on the world!!! (I can already feel you twitching with a nervous energy… “no more dry shampoo ads, Tom!”)
The word ‘creative’ is often confined to advertising – but the reality is that creative thought applies to almost every aspect of business. Displaying point of sale merchandise in a store, writing a presentation, coming up with social media campaigns, creative accountancy and of course the most obvious manifestation of creativity – advertising. But unlike many skills, increasing creativity doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly linear process. Unlike fact-based subjects, it seems unlikely that the creative information you put in one day can be directly usable the next. At least not as easily as other skill/ knowledge sets. Take law for example, you go to school to learn the rules of law, you join a firm to practice the rules of law, the more you practice the better you get. So, what inputs do you put in to improve your creative thought? Creativity baccalaureate anyone??? I think not.
“But what about the creative lawyers, the creative accountants, Tom? WHAT ABOUT THEM??”
Well you’re absolutely right, they need their brains to work in creative ways to come up with innovative solutions. But is this a result of the more knowledge you have the more likely you are to see the gaps? I’m sure that’s the case, but I would argue that in a lot of circumstances innovative ideas come out of ‘nowhere’ – “Where did that come from??” “I have no idea – it was a moment”.
“So just hire smarter people – they’re more creative”
Unfortunately, fortunately it’s not just about intelligence. In fact, many studies have shown that there is no significant correlation between creativity and intelligence. A highly intelligent individual does not necessarily = creative. Creativity is more governed by the mode of thinking, rather than the amount of intelligence a person has. But our systems (educational and professional) are very skewed towards teaching and rewarding the traditional understanding of intelligence, leaving creativity a bit unloved. And this is really the crux of the ‘how do you become/ hire/ encourage creativity?’ problem. If we’re not teaching people how to be creative – how can we expect to see creative output?
This is the point where I had written a whole section on how I feel education doesn’t serve the needs of the modern world but this is a rabbit-hole of a topic that can be handled by a link to my favourite TED Talk of all time (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity). Ken Robinson perfectly sums up my passionate feeling that subjects that might encourage creative thought are all too frequently discouraged at the expense of the rote learning of Math, English and Science. But as Artificial Intelligence becomes increasingly omnipotent you could argue that facts become less important than the creative use of those facts. But even before the takeover of robots, I would argue that creativity is the fuel of a company wanting to accelerate its growth. Without creativity how can we possibly expect to speed ahead of our competitors? To shock, excite and engage our consumers?
“But we have advertising agencies, they do the creative stuff, I just sign it off”
This is what I hear quite regularly. That coming up with ideas is someone else’s job. But if you have absolutely zero creative capacity how do you sign off their work? If you were so devoid of creativity I would argue that you are completely unqualified to judge someone else’s work. But the truth is that we all have the capacity to be creative to some degree, whether it’s problem solving or artistically, and we all need to nurture and draw on this broad skill set.
“Ok, so how do I teach myself to be more creative?”
This is when things get a bit tricky. For numerical innovative thought, I’m sure that brain training via Sudoku and cryptic crosswords might help, but for other types? If you can’t measure it, how do you know you are improving? Well, in an incredibly unscientific manner I started looking at my own process to see what has an impact on my own levels of creative output.
When someone asks me to come up with a social media campaign or an idea for an advert, the process is often linear: Product solves problem A for demographic B. B usually does C. So, show B experiencing A whilst doing C. This is overly simplistic but you get my drift. The problem with this is that the result of this is more often than not, boring, and completely forgettable. So where do the random, exciting, pulse racing, thumb-scroll-stopping ideas really stem from? Well, I really don’t have a clue but I’ve started cultivating a method of refuelling my mind with as many artistic inputs as possible – the theory being that in the same way as you put as much accountancy knowledge in, when challenged with a tax problem you’ll be in a good place to be able to come up with the answer (I know I know, tax usually has a definitive singular answer but you get my point). So, feed the mind with as much creative petrol as possible and hope that when you need to start the engine it will roar into action.
I’ve jotted down some thoughts on how you might want to refuel your creativity:
I’ve now started a bi-monthly excursion with my team to see an exhibition, ideally but not necessarily, about design or art. We were walking around an exhibit called ‘The American Dream – pop to the present’ at the British Museum and within 30 minutes had come up with 20 different ideas to take forward. It was one of the most creatively productive meetings that I’ve been involved in – and it had zero objective.
Same principal as exhibitions – affording yourself the time to sit and listen to a potentially unrelated topic will fill your creative tank. Is it any wonder than Parmesh Shahani, head of the Godrej Culture Lab, is an absolute ideas machine??? Having Culture Lab on tap at Godrej is so majestically unusual (it really does not happen anywhere else), but is unquestionably a creative petrol station. If you don’t take advantage of this then you deserve a puncture.
I ingest as many different magazines as humanly possible – Vogue, GQ, MMR, Tatler, Black Beauty and Hair, The Economist (only on a plane obviously) etc. Of course, I follow these titles online, but I feel that when you are on social media you are in a brevity mind set – your thumb has moved past a picture before you’ve even taken it in. Grab a magazine, sit somewhere away from your office and give yourself 30 minutes to flick through. I’m a tear-out-something-I-like-and-stick-it-on-my-board sort of a guy – often not knowing why I like something, or where it might be used but not wanting to let go of a piece of inspiration too quickly.
4. Stop, watch and listen
Darshan Gandhi, our head of Design, is one of the most creative people I have ever met (so interact with her whenever you possibly can) and her creative counsel is to ‘observe life’. Watch the interaction between people and objects – whether it be physical or emotional. And ask people to recount stories of such interactions; what might seem a mundane thing to them (“talk to me about when you got your first weave/hair colour”) can provide incredible insight and context for us to build on.
5. Dinner with someone unusual
No, this is not a green light for Tinder dating for work’s sake. I’m sure most people will have a strange/ peculiar/ fascinating/ unnerving friend. I have a group of peculiarly energetic and creative buddies that I meet up with once a quarter, apropos of nothing. Whether it’s the discussion, the prickle back shots (google them and phone thank me drunk later) or the energy levels on display, I always walk away with a spring in my step and ideas bubbling.
Ever walked out of a James Bond film a bit quicker than you strolled in? Looking around at ‘suspicious’ people in a spy-like manner and driving home like you were being followed? Yeah, me neither… But the number of times I’ve been watching a film and reached for my phone to write a seed of an idea down (unrelated to the film topic) makes me think there has to be a link between being immersed in another world and the brain being given time to process a whole host of thoughts.
I have no idea how it works, but listening to jazz funk seems to stir something, somewhere…
8. Time and space
If you think that by sitting in a bland meeting room for 15 minutes will give you the inspiration you’re looking for, think again. Remember that it is irregular to find a truly creative solution in a linear fashion, so treating it like an Annual Planning meeting is likely to result in results. If you have a problem that needs a creative solution, you need to allow yourself the time to arrive at the answer.
9. Anything else that makes you happy
Gardening, sports, dance – based on zero scientific evidence I am 100% sure that a happy person is a creative person, and that by doing something unrelated to the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re clearing the brain to work on it.
10. An openness to the ridiculous
Whilst this isn’t an approach to refuelling creativity I feel it is a hugely important aspect to my particular method: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a discussion with ‘this is a little off-piste but…’ or ‘this is weird but go with me on this…’ Sure, mostly the audacious ideas go nowhere and your colleagues think you’ve been lunchtime drinking, but I find that “ridiculous” ideas spawn an incredibly useful exchange about what is feasible, what’s not and where do people really want the creative to go. “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy”, said Sigmund Freud.
“Tom, I read a magazine on the loo and I’ve got Netflix – this is hardly Maslow level insight”
I never said this was some pyramid shaped rapier insight piece, but more of a plea to take the subject seriously, to take personal responsibility for improving yours and to allow your teams the time and space to exercise their creative abilities. In doing so you’ll save LOADS of money on creative agencies (finally I’ve got your attention!). But aside from saving money, fostering a creative environment is critical if we are to hit our ambitious growth targets here at Godrej. So, I plead with you all to take the topic of creative thinking (and the fuelling thereof) seriously and ensure your teams do the same. And if you find a method of fuelling that works for you – please let me know and I’ll share it far and wide. After all, as Albert Einstein once mused: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on”.
Many thanks to Tom for sharing some great perspectives. Like he points out, creativity isn’t really something that any of us can opt out of. It is very intrinsically linked to how to we will achieve our collective aspirations, not to mention how we will grow and develop as individuals. At the same time, there isn’t really a set formula or approach to becoming more creative. It is something that each of us will need to experiment with and discover for ourselves.
By extension, we also need think much harder about how we can unlock creativity and build the right culture at Godrej. Creating new ideas can’t be an item on your check-list that you can cross off. You have to ensure that you break the silos, facilitate free flow of ideas, push diversity of thought and encourage risk-taking. And above all, you need to be curious and ask the right questions.
Do write in with your perspectives. I look forward to hearing from you.